The upside to this is that it should create an opportunity for plenty of younger players as soon as preseason ends. The downside is that many clubs will use it as a way of getting senior players up to scratch before the Premiership season proper begins.
Nevertheless, there will be opportunities for younger players in a season coming off the back of a Rugby World Cup and we have identified below one rookie from each club who could have an impact in their debut professional season.
Bath – Max Ojomoh
Bath won’t be particularly hard hit in the centres in terms of internationals being away, with only Jonathan Joseph in the frame to be in Japan, but Ojomoh is a player of high potential who has already begun to make an impact at the Premiership Shield level.
A direct inside centre who will actively run at the space between defenders and not soak up contact unnecessarily, something which is aided by his excellent footwork, Ojomoh could be an option at 12 for Bath in the Cup this season, with Max Clarke and Max Wright then completely freed up to deputise for Joseph at 13.
The leaps he made with his comfort and communication in defence between his U17 and his U18 years was clear to see last season and should help him make a more seamless transition to the senior set-up. With Bath set to lose two or three back three players to England, look for wing Gabriel Hamer-Webb to get some chances, too.
Bristol Bears – Ioan Lloyd
The most exciting thing about Lloyd is the scope for how Bristol could use him at the senior level. They’ve publicly signed him as a fly-half and that is certainly one option, although he also offers intelligent and incisive counter-attacking from the full-back position.
Whether he’s learning his trade alongside Ian Madigan and Callum Sheedy or deputising for Charles Piutau with fellow versatile Welsh playmaker Mat Protheroe, there should be a few glimpses of Lloyd’s ability this coming season.
When they come, you’ll see a confident fly-half who’s comfortable taking the ball to the gain-line and playing late, but who also has the control at the position to be a candidate to be Bristol’s ‘franchise fly-half’ moving forward.
Exeter Chiefs did not contract any U18s this summer.
Gloucester – Louis Rees-Zammit
As Gloucester’s youngest ever Premiership player, having featured for the senior side at the age of just 18 years and 70 days last season, there was no other direction to go here than with Rees-Zammit.
His electrifying pace, footwork and attacking instincts saw him light up the U18 competition over the last couple of years and his impact was also felt in the Premiership Shield last season, despite him still being in his final year at Hartpury College.
We promised you a wonder try.
Here is said wonder try.
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) April 2, 2019
Gloucester don’t lose too many players to international duty but expect Rees-Zammit to feature at some point all the same, whilst a senior Welsh cap won’t be out of the question, either, with Wayne Pivac likely very keen to lure him back to Wales.
Harlequins – Louis Lynagh
A nimble full-back who is also comfortable on the wing, Lynagh could make the most of the injury to Nathan Earle and Vereniki Goneva’s potential duty with Fiji at the Rugby World Cup. Quins may be reluctant to throw him in at the deep end at full-back, especially with Mike Brown and Aaron Morris available to them, but opportunities on the wing could certainly come.
As back three players go, there are few as eager to play from deep as Lynagh and his balance, and vision of where the space on the pitch is, frequently see him slalom his way through opposition defences.
It could be a good way to introduce Lynagh to senior rugby, as he works on the kicking, positional and defensive skills that he will ultimately need to thrive at full-back.
Leicester Tigers – Freddie Steward
Another full-back, Steward has already had a taste of Premiership and senior rugby, as he was used briefly by Leicester towards the end of last season. If Telusa Veainu is at the Rugby World Cup with Tonga, opportunities should come for Steward.
He might not be quite as agile or have the acceleration that Lynagh does, but he is more robust physically, is strong in the air and is very consistent in one-on-one tackles, potentially making his transition to playing full-back at the senior level a little more comfortable.
If he can impress in the Cup fixtures, don’t rule Steward out from making a number of matchday 23s in the Premiership as the season goes on.
London Irish – Chunya Munga
With Irish handing out a number of contracts to forwards this season, Munga becomes the first player in the pack to be mentioned. It’s not a selection by default, though, as Munga ticks a very valuable box for Irish and that’s by being an athletic second row who can make a major long-term impact at the lineout. Phil Cokanasiga, the younger brother of Joe, has also inked terms with the club and will likely feature at some point.
?? | London Irish has today confirmed five additions to the Senior Academy for the 2019/20 season.
Finlay Rossiter, Chunya Munga, Josh Smart, Jack Belcher & Luke Green have been given the opportunity to further their development at the club. Read more ? https://t.co/oeHgcZOCtp pic.twitter.com/KsZTt4Yfd3
— London Irish (@LiRFC) April 17, 2019
Irish are not overflowing with locks since Sebastian de Chaves’ departure to Newcastle and Adam Coleman could yet be involved with the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup. Short-term signing Ruan Botha has had an injury-plagued year and Albert Tuisue will likely be with Fiji.
Asking a lock to step up to the physicality on show in the seniors in his first year is not easy, but opportunities could and should come in the Cup and Shield and Munga will certainly be one to watch in those tournaments. His technical skill at the set-piece and reading of opposition lineouts certainly caught the eye in the U18s.
Newcastle Falcons – Will Haydon-Wood
Possibly the most impressive pure fly-half at U18 level over the last season, Haydon-Wood will be hoping that he can crack the senior squad during Newcastle’s stint in the Greene King IPA Championship.
A season of learning from the veteran Toby Flood and Joel Hodgson could do wonders for Haydon-Wood, who Newcastle will be keen to develop and show him that he can realise all his club and international ambitions in the north-east.
Dean Richards has not been the most eager of directors of rugby to throw in younger players at the senior level during his time at the Falcons, although the step down in quality that the Championship offers versus the Premiership could see him give his talented senior academy group more of an opportunity. Outside centre Chidera Obonna is another rookie to watch, with Chris Harris having departed for Gloucester.
Northampton Saints – Josh Gillespie
Another of the U18s from last season to have already been given a taste of senior action, Gillespie should see minutes this season, the question is just at what position will those opportunities come.
In his cameos for the seniors last season Gillespie was used on the wing, but the former Millfield school pupil is also adept at full-back and there has been talk that his future may lie at outside centre. With Matt Proctor coming in and Rory Hutchinson and Fraser Dingwall putting down markers last season, it is probably safe to rule the latter out.
Chris Boyd will be buoyed by the payoff he got from giving Ollie Sleightholme chances on the wing last season and as a result may well be keen to hand those same opportunities to Gillespie, whose speed and footwork will translate well to the seniors, giving Saints one of the best young wing tandems in the country.
Sale Sharks – Tom Roebuck
Sale have a strong group of wings in their senior squad, albeit without the depth of some of the other Premiership clubs, which could open a door for Roebuck.
Where the likes of Gillespie, Lynagh and Rees-Zammit mentioned earlier all excel through their speed, footwork and evasion, Roebuck is built more robustly and is not afraid to use his physicality to win one-on-one contests. He certainly doesn’t lack for speed, either, but nor does he mind lowering his shoulder and running through someone.
If Byron McGuigan is with Scotland and Sale approach Marland Yarde’s rehabilitation conservatively, playing time should beckon for Roebuck in the Cup and Shield, although Chris Ashton and Denny Solomona will be tough to dislodge as starting options in the Premiership. Gifted and versatile playmaker Tom Curtis should see the pitch, too, although Cam Redpath will likely be next man up in the Sale midfield.
Saracens – Harvey Beaton
A forward-heavy intake, Saracens only opted to contract one back this season, paving the way for Beaton to be mentioned here, despite the tighthead, in all honesty, still unlikely to crack the senior squad at the Premiership level.
That said, with Vincent Koch, Juan Figallo and Titi Lamositele all possibly involved in the Rugby World Cup, Saracens may have to lean on Beaton in the Cup and Shield, with new signings Josh Ibuanokpe and Sam Wainwright needed for the Premiership, especially in the first few rounds of competition.
If this comes across as negative towards Beaton due to the plethora of options ahead of him, it should not. To even be in the frame at a position like tighthead as a first-year player is extremely rare and although opportunities may be limited this season, Beaton could eventually be the one accolade that the Saracens academy has been missing in recent years – a top-end tighthead prop.
Wasps – Alfie Barbeary
A player that plenty of people are aware of already, not least so for his reckless off-the-ball tip tackle at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina, Barbeary is a very talented hooker who could feature intermittently in his first professional season.
There is still a week left to serve on his ban for that indiscretion in Rosario but, fitness-permitting, he should feature for Wasps in the Cup and Shield, the latter of which he played regularly in whilst still at school at Bloxham.
If he takes to professional rugby and the demands and responsibilities required of it well, and continues to develop his lineout throwing, Barbeary could even begin to crack Premiership matchday 23s by the end of the season.
Worcester Warriors – Noah Heward
Just the three players brought in by Worcester this summer, although full-back Heward has already had a taste of senior rugby in the Shield and did well in those opportunities. He now gets the opportunity to learn from Chris Pennell, something which should certainly help him in his fledgling pro career.
Melani Nanai and Ed Fidow come in for the departing Josh Adams and Bryce Heem, so playing time is not necessarily going to be on the table for Heward in the Premiership, but further games in the Shield should be, as well as chances in the Cup competition.
With Pennell set to turn 33 this season, Worcester will have an eye on who his eventual successor may be, so if Heward can impress in those competitions, he will position himself well for the seasons to come at Sixways.
Watch: The first episode of RugbyPass’ six-part documentary on the Leicester Tigers academy.
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